Hugo Ceremony Link

The livestream will be available here https://watch.thefantasy.network/the-2020-hugo-awards/

Times:

  • Wellington NZ: Saturday 1 August 11 am
  • Sydney AU: Saturday 1 August 9 am – nice!
  • Perth AU/Hong Kong/Singapore: Saturday 1 August 7 am
  • Delhi: Saturday 1 August 4:30 am
  • Most of Europe & Africa: Saturday 1 August 1 am
  • UK & other more westerly bits: Midnight Friday 31 July/August 1
  • New York/ East Coast US: Friday 31 July 7 pm.
  • All those other US time zones: etc I lost track
  • Hawaii: Friday 31 July 1 pm.

It’s a neat problem of how to schedule a worldwide event so it hits civilised times. In this case, NZ gets a rare opportunity to pick but Europe & Africa have to have a late night party.

Some links on postponement

The possibility of postponing the US presidential elections has been floated by the current Presidential incumbent. This is a classic case of lots of things being true at once:

  • It is primarily a stunt by Trump to control the news cycle and get attention.
  • It is a genuinely scary development and a step on the road to overt dictatorship.
  • There are legitimate reasons for postponing elections if you treat it as an abstract question and a different country with a different electoral system and a different incumbent might reasonably do so.
  • The situation is volatile and that volatility will be cynically exploited by the current president.

So a relevant question is what is the mechanism for postponement and who decides and I don’t know enough to answer those questions. So here are a bunch of links.

None of that stops state level shenanigans or Trump just ignoring the law of course.

Googles are from Mars, N-grams are from Venus

Some more graphs on the same topic of Mars versus Venus in popular culture following from my earlier post. (https://camestrosfelapton.wordpress.com/2020/07/29/martians-are-more-popular-than-venusians/)

In the comments to the last post, Andrew suggested “Venerians” is another term that was used for hypothetical beings from Venus. I’ve changed my Venus search term to Venusians+Venerians.

Here’s the full span 1800 to 2019.

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Martians%2CVenusians%2BVenerians&year_start=1800&year_end=2019&corpus=26&smoothing=1#

I don’t think the post 1980’s boom of Martians is surprising. It is the perceptive shift that Ray Bradbury anticipated in his story “The Million Year Picnic” where the Martians are revealed to be the human colonists. Although Bradbury’s canal references have become dated, humans as Martians have continued in books like Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars trilogy and (of course) Andy Weir’s The Martian.

Our post Mariner/Viking understanding of Mars means nobody seriously expects living Martians and even fantastical Martians are more likely to appear as a lost civilisation (e.g. the film Total Recall). However, the dusty almost airless rock ball Mars is still a more enticing option than the high pressure hell world that we now know Venus is.

Confounding some of these searches are a couple of things. Firstly contemporary books looking at older popular culture, such as modern discussions of mid-20th century pulps. The second is the infamous pop-psychology book by John Gray “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” which results in many search hits where people are discussing the book in terms of Martians and Venusians as a way of critiquing the gender stereotypes in Gray’s book.

To clear up some of those issues, I can shift the corpus the Google n-gram searches from the general English to English Fiction. Also, the pre-1890 section of the graph isn’t doing very much relative to later decades, so I’ll look at that separately.

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Martians%2CVenusians%2BVenerians&year_start=1890&year_end=2019&corpus=27&smoothing=1#

The 1950s era of science fiction is very visible, with a peak for both camps. Interestingly, the slump I expected in 1970 is there for Mars as the popular understanding of the planet changes but it recovers quite quickly. There’s another peak in the early 80’s perhaps fuelled by the Viking missions to Mars.

Peak Venusians is 1951. Peak Martians is 1953. I think that fits my intuitive impression of the field. Note that doesn’t mean there is in total fewer Martians wandering through fiction now. The raw total is, I guess, higher now but smaller as proportion of everything (hence the tiny percentages on the vertical scale).

Martians are more popular than Venusians

I thought this comment at File 770 was interesting http://file770.com/pixel-scroll-7-28-20-we-have-pixelsign-the-likes-of-godstalk-has-never-seen/#comment-1204307

However, I realised that the Google n-gram site would provide a neat empirical confirmation of Mars bias in popular culture. I did a search on Martians and Venusians, choosing the inhabitants rather than the planets to avoid hits about astronomy or the gods.

https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=Martians%2CVenusians&year_start=1800&year_end=1970&corpus=26&smoothing=2#

I cut off the date at 1970 because by that point images from the Mariner probe and other data had really begun to reshape how we thought about our sister planets.

I think the deeper question is why? Venus is a lot, lot more visible than Mars. Is it precisely because of that? That we think of Venus as a star rather than a planet? Or is it some kind of weird sexism that makes manly war-like Mars more interesting than feminine Venus?

The H.G.Wells spike is very visible, so maybe it is all down to Herbert’s arbitrary choice. If he’d picked tripod’s from Venus then maybe those lines would be reversed?

Arthur Tudor and alternate history

Because I’m still currently reading a book set in Tudor times my mind keeps wandering back to Henry VIII older brother Arthur. England narrowly (by seven years) having an actual King Arthur. Yet Arthur Tudor is largely absent from fiction and instead falls into that same under-written space between the battle of Bosworth field and Henry VIII attempting to have his marriage to Catharine of Aragon annulled.

Henry VII’s reign acts as a kind of off-stage set of events between the end of one season of English history and the next. A shift between late-medieval times and early-modern times, in which clearly lots of things happened socio-politically and economically but which aren’t as so obviously tempting for writers and dramatists as Henry VIII’s appalling treatment of his wives.

Yet a King Arthur on the throne at that same point of time, you would think would be itself a temptation. Just at the point that English history shifts from warring great families to conflicts of faith, religion and (more overtly) social class, feels like an obvious playground for “what if…”

The name was intentional. Henry Tudor had a very weak claim to the throne and the practical substance of it was winning a battle. The War of the Roses had killed off other more obvious Lancastrian claimants and so Henry bolstered his tenuous links to the throne by playing up his Welsh heritage and claims to descent from Cadwaladr, the legendary last king of the Britons and post-Bosworth marched into London flying a flag of the Welsh red dragon. Arthur Tudor was born in 1486, at a time of renewed interest in Arthurian stories with the first printing of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur in 1485.

Of course, Arthur did not become king. Instead he died at age 15 seven years before his father. As a consequence, his younger brother (with the very boring name of Henry) became Prince of Wales and then later king and fodder for a very long IMDB entry (there are a few spurious Henrys in that list though).

Arthur had married by the time of his death, to Catharine of Aragon. After his death, Catharine and Henry married but the marriage required a papal dispensation due to biblical injunction against a man marrying his brother’s widow (as I understand it, the view was that on marriage the wife becomes the brother’s sister). The convoluted plans of alliances and dowries behind the original marriage could be maintained by marrying the two teenagers but in the process set-up a future legalistic get-out clause for Henry VIII when 20+ years later he wanted to end the marriage. That dispute famously led to the split between Henry VIII and the Pope, which was primarily a political dispute but happened at an opportune moment of the broader European protestant reformation.

So what would have happened if Arthur Tudor hadn’t died? The exact cause of death is unknown and the internet has a mixed opinion as to whether Arthur was always a bit sickly or whether he just got a bad dose of a novel virus. Kingsley Amis used Arthur’s survival as a historical diversion point in his 1970’s book The Alteration, set in a contemporary England in which the Catholic Church is still predominant. Aside from that, I’m not familiar with other uses of Arthur Tudor as divergent point in an alternate history (I’m sure there are other examples though, I just don’t know of them).

The obvious focus for a change in history is Henry VIII’s dispute with the Pope and the subsequent split of England from the Catholic Church (although not immediately from Catholicism). If Arthur had survived long enough to be king then odds are Henry would have married somebody else. Even if Arthur died without an heir and was succeeded by Henry, it is less likely Henry would have then married Catharine. That specific aspect of history would change.

Would an alt-timeline King Arthur (or differently married King Henry) ended up in a different dispute with the Pope? Possibly but arguably Henry’s dispute with the Pope was a very specific set of circumstances, resting as it did on that original (and possibly legally dubious) papal dispensation for Henry to marry Catharine in the first place.

However, even if we imagine a King Arthur and the absence of the very specific royal dispute with the Pope, plenty of other northern European countries had their own splits from Catholicism. Most of Germany and Scandinavia separated from the authority of the Pope during the 16th century and it’s possible that an alt-history England might have followed a path more like say Sweden. Alternatively, maybe England would have stayed Catholic until the same socio-economic conflicts behind the eventually English Civil War played out with a greater religious element to them or even played out sooner precisely because the attempted compromise of the Church of England didn’t exist?

Heading away from the politics, I’m surprised that the fantastical element of a narrowly-missed actual King Arthur has not been more used a setting for a fantasy novel. Indeed, there’s a very easy pretext for re-telling of Arthurian legend but re-tailored to fit the historical didn’t-quite-happen King Arthur. Henry VII himself is a bit of an Uther Pendragon like character. There’s not an obvious Merlin (or rather there is but John Dee is a few decades out of sync to work) but no shortage of knights, even if they would be more concerned about building nice houses or managing trade routes with Europe.

Susan’s Salon: 2020 July 26/27

The last open thread for July! Please use to just chat about whatever. Susan’s Salon is posted early Monday Sydney time (still Sunday in most places) . It’s OK to be sad, worried, angry or happy (or all of those things at once). Please feel free to post either troubling news or pleasant distractions in the comments for this open thread. [However, no cranky conflicts between each other in the comments. Links, videos, cat pictures etc are fine – be nice to one another!] Whatever you like but be nice to one another 😇

Wear a mask while posting a comment.

Pandemics & Politics

The soup of conspiracy mongering about the covid-19 pandemic has never truly settled on a clear story. Even as the virus began spreading internationally, reactions ranged from claims that China was exaggerating the numbers of people infected to China was hiding the ‘true’ scale of infection. The common theme with conspiratorial thinking is that genuine doubt, genuine ignorance and genuine shifts in opinion about a novel situation are actually examples of deceit. There is a paradoxical relationship with authority and expertise in any conspiracy theory as the claims of deception always imply that the authorities genuinely do know a lot more about the true state of affairs than everybody else but are lying about it.

The most recent iteration of covid conspiracy-mongering is the ‘Plandemic’ conspiracy video which has sprouted out of anti-vaccine conspiracies. You can read more about it here https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2020/may/14/plandemic-movie-discredited-dr-doctor-judy-mikovits-how-debunked-conspiracy-theory-film-went-viral but there is also a good analysis of conspiracy-theory thinking which uses it as an example here https://theconversation.com/coronavirus-plandemic-and-the-seven-traits-of-conspiratorial-thinking-138483. The conspiracy is being promoted among some sections of the media in the usual just-asking-questions/exploring-the-controversy way:

“Local television stations owned by the Sinclair Broadcast Group are set to air a conspiracy theory over the weekend that suggests Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert on infectious diseases, was responsible for the creation of the coronavirus.The baseless conspiracy theory is set to air on stations across the country in a segment during the program “America This Week” hosted by Eric Bolling. The show, which is posted online before it is broadcast over the weekend, is distributed to Sinclair Broadcast Group’s network of local television stations, one of the largest in the country. A survey by Pew Research Group earlier this year showed that local news was a vital source of information on the coronavirus for many Americans, and more trusted than the media overall.”[1]

https://edition.cnn.com/2020/07/24/media/sinclair-fauci-conspiracy-bolling/index.html

What the various conspiracy theories have in common is a belief that pandemic fears and public health measures are specifically a plot against Donald Trump. The details vary (or even contradict each other) but they aim to support a motive for the imagined conspiracy i.e. that the ‘ruling classes’ have manufactured pandemic fears as a way to undermine Donald Trump. To support this idea conspiracy-theorists point to pre-pandemic articles discussing how Trump might cope with a pandemic (e.g. this one by Ed Yong in 2016 https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/12/outbreaks-trump-disease-epidemic-ebola/511127/ ) as evidence that people were ‘planning’ to use pandemic fears against Trump.

Ironically, across the world many political leaders have gained popular support as a consequence of the pandemic (https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2020/05/13/some-world-leaders-popularity-grows-along-with-coronavirus-case-numbers/ ). This pandemic poll-boost has helped politicians both on the left and right and isn’t tied to any particular policy measure nor even whether the covid-19 response was particularly successful. Clear messaging and decisive policy appear to be the main factors but even the shambolic Boris Johnson gained an initial popularity boost (although he eventually squandered it https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2020/jun/14/poll-uk-government-losing-public-approval-over-handling-of-virus ).

The reality of natural disasters, including pandemics, is that they can often boost the standing of national leaders. Nor is it difficult to gain support because it is mainly a halo effect from the leader being seen in the company of competent people doing their jobs at a time when people will naturally hope for national unity. It actually takes some effort to mess up. Notably, the Australian Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, managed to do this during the 2019/20 bushfire crisis leading to a rapid plummet in support and humiliating scenes of firefighters refusing to shake his hand. Conversely, Morrison saw his poll numbers boosted during the pandemic, mainly by not repeating the same basic errors he had a few months earlier.

In short, natural disasters are more likely to boost a national leader than undermine them. As a plot against Trump, a pandemic would be a terrible idea: all Trump would need to do is look presidential, let experts speak and pat them on the back. Of course, there is a counter-argument here. A pandemic may well be an actually electoral boost for most politicians but specifically a problem for Trump. As we have seen, Trump has spectacularly failed but this was entirely due to his own incompetence and the incompetence of his cronies. Even so, in late March, the pandemic led to Trump’s approval numbers steadily improving, only to be undermined by Trump’s inability to handle a crisis.

In short, as a plot against Trump, a pandemic would only undermine Trump’s popularity if Trump was actually a uniquely bad president. Of course, he is actually a uniquely bad president, so I guess that is one thing the conspiracy theories have going for them.


[1] Apparently Sinclair media have since changed their plans https://twitter.com/WeAreSinclair/status/1287110687093714944

Dragon Award Content!

Thanks to Laura for pointing out that the blog section of the Dragon Award website has new content! https://www.dragoncon.org/awards/2020/07/24/a-blast-from-the-past-winners-part-1/

In this three-part series, past Dragon Award recipients talk about their award-winning novels and their Dragon Awards experience.

Needless to say, the front page of the website still says “Nominations are open”, so whoever got hold of the keys to the website didn’t do any other fixes.

“The Dragon Awards, launched in 2016 in tandem with Dragon Con’s 30th anniversary, allows readers, writers, publishers, and editors a way to recognize excellence in all things Science Fiction and Fantasy. These Awards are by the fans, for the fans, and are a chance to reward those who have made real contributions to SF, books, games, comics, and media.

Every fan, writer, publisher, and editor anywhere are welcome, and encouraged, to nominate and vote for the Dragon Awards! There is no qualification for nominating or voting – no convention fees or other memberships are needed.

Now in its sixth year, the Dragon Con hosted Dragon Awards has proven to be the defining “must” list for the greatest in genre novels, media, comics, and games.”

It’s odd how it oscillates between ‘fans’ as a generic category and then delineates “readers, writers, publishers, and editors”. It’s not that writers, publishers and editors can’t be also fans, it’s just that these are different kinds of roles. Aside from that the only word that strikes me as odd is “encouraged”.